Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: To celebrate the return of Veronica Mars, we dig up some other unconventional detective stories.
Nancy Drew (2007)
Underage detectives got a noir makeover in the mid-aughts with the likes of Brick and Veronica Mars, so it makes sense that the decidedly less noir, but still iconic Nancy Drew character would get her own shot at a comeback. Andrew Fleming's Nancy Drew came to theaters about a month after the third and final season of Veronica Mars ended, and in some ways it plays like a JV-level version of that beloved TV show, featuring a teenage outsider solves mysteries in sunny California.
Like Veronica, this present-day Nancy (played by Emma Roberts) is smart and capable. But rather than upping her hipness or quip factor, she also remains anomalously polite and retro—a nerd with a touch of OCD. ("I just start working on something and I can't stop") This makes her a front-page hero in her small hometown, but when her lawyer father (Tate Donovan) takes a temporary job in the L.A. area and encourages her to have more typical teenage experiences, she has trouble leaving behind her sleuthing (as she constantly calls it). The movie treats her relocation as a Brady Bunch Movie-style time warp; Nancy's penny loafers, knee socks, and Peter Pan collars suddenly look more out of place among bratty mean girls from the city.
Yet Nancy Drew isn't a spoof of its source material. Fleming, as director and cowriter, doesn't treat the character as a joke: "I like old-fashioned things," she offers by way of explaining her wardrobe and love of vinyl records. Instead, Fleming (who also made the humorous teen-girls-at-Watergate opus Dick) takes a droll, affectionate approach to her archaic trappings, crafting oddball sight gags whenever Roberts tries to engage in what she considers normal hobbies. And the dialogue has flashes of deadpan wit: Summarizing her prized case, about the decades-earlier death of a Hollywood starlet, for her meek love interest (Max Thieriot), she offhandedly tells him the case is "before your time."
Nancy Drew starts a bit stronger than it finishes, and its culture-clash material isn't always well integrated with the sleuthing, which is a little rote (though shot with widescreen flair by Fleming). But the alternating comic and mystery threads generate a lot of charm and humor, and give the movie an offbeat rhythm unusual for a kid-friendly film. It's perfect for not-quite teenagers a few years away from enjoying Veronica Mars—or anyone who appreciates old-fashioned things.
Availability: Nancy Drew is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.